My habit of watching Emily get dressed in the morning, once something she appreciated, had grown slowly into something else, perhaps found disturbing, a reverse metamorphosis, a butterfly thought into a maggoty little obsession. It began with that, the image of her bending her leg slightly to put her foot into her underwear, almost like a ballerina who has just lifted a foot from the floor as she attempts passe. And all day, when Emily was out at work, that image multiplied in my inner hall of mirrors, my compound mind. From the bed I looked across the room. It was so clean, so hygienic. It was nothing like the filthy pit we stayed in near the Gare du Nord. That had been full of cockroaches and I had watched Emily dress, a show for me then, my look appreciated after we had made love amidst the filth and morning sunlight.
Then I saw it across this too clean bedroom: one solitary skirting-board warrior, a ground beetle.
"Hello, little ronin," I said.
Already I was not quite human.
It was the day after I'd found the ground beetle, now suffocated in a matchbox in the bedside cabinet. I did manage to get up that day. Made it all the way to the library where the closing down sale was still going on. There were a few popular books. Nothing like the text books I had once had. I tried not to remember the days I had spent with them on a blanket in Brick Lane market. Another academic selling off books: old review copies, inspection copies. I was lucky I suppose, at least books on entomology have some good colour plates. I watched designer city couples; thinking they were daring going further east than Spitalfields, rip out pictures for framing: dragonflies, whirligigs and damselflies all to go on a toilet wall or forgotten hallway. I found the books in the gutter.
So, I came back from the library with my penny purchases and laid them out on the bed, six: one for each leg. I was constructing a machine that would affect my transformation.
It wasn't the whole Gregor Samsa trip that I wanted no. Not to be disgusting. More like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly (1986). The image where Geena Davis takes off her stocking and sends it through the teleporter was the sort of scene that could haunt me all day if I allowed it. Even as an insect Jeff was sexy. That might get some interest. That might get Emily into bed. It might even get me out of bed.
The next morning Emily loomed over me.
"What are you going to do today?"
"I don't know…."
"You can't just give up."
She was smartly dressed, for the office. Short black skirt etc. I liked that, the distance it put between us made her even more desirable.
"No," I said, "you're right."
From where I lay I reached out with my antennae to touch her. I ran them along her flanks just above the hips, nothing lewd but, rather, affectionate. She didn't feel a thing, just left to go to work.
I must have lain there all day; absorbing structures, their sounds making little poems in my head: scutum, scutellum, elytra…scutum, scutellum, elytra. Then she was standing over me, still in her smart suit, her hair come slightly untangled, falling from its slides in an utterly delicious way.
She waved some papers.
"There's a job," she said, "I've printed it all off for you…."
I looked at her, multiple images, a giant about to reach over and pluck me up, put me in a matchbox. Did I wince? The look of disappointment across her faces wounded me.
"What is it?" I said.
"Well, it's just a general admin job…"
We could live in filth amid cockroaches in Paris, couldn't we? Did it all matter so much, the endless scrambling around to maintain a life-style?
"You'll have to lie," she said.
"Because you're massively over-qualified."
"Then, I'll lie."
"That's the spirit."
And she leant over and kissed me, kissed the hardening chitin of my carapace, her touch so rare it made me shudder, almost piss myself, almost die.
The questions were baffling.
Discuss a situation in which you have shown initiative.
How have you demonstrated team work in your current stroke last position?
I tried to answer, watching the ink crawl over the page in letters and words, aphids of meaning that were beginning to seem meaningless. Afterwards I scuttled to a corner and found a silverfish to crunch on before I fell asleep.
I was on the ceiling when she brought the good news.
"You've got an interview."
I was looking down at her, could see just inside her blouse, to the curve of her breasts. I could leap down and ravish her; and in my multiple visions it would be replayed out to an infinity, a lovemaking as decadent as any mirrored fin de siècle brothel of the imagination.
"Well," she said, "it's brilliant isn't it?"
Take off your clothes, I wanted to cry. You are a human and I can only worship you. I am only fit to be crushed beneath the heel of your shoe. But please take off your clothes.
"Yes," I said, "it's brilliant."
The office complex was vast, filled with tunnels and cavities, a nest of scampering life that I could almost feel at home in. I was sat at a table with two people on the other side, a woman with a wart on her cheek and a man whose hair wouldn't stay down. In my multiple vision their many forms stacked up, spread around. They seemed wary and I realised that they weren't so unlike me, that they too had potential for transformation; I imagined them as ants. Yes they would do well as ants.
I tried to answer their questions but really had no idea what it was they wanted me to say.
"I spent six years on a doctorate and ten teaching at a university."
"I studied insects."
They looked at each other.
"You see," said the man, "what you did doesn't really contribute to the economy does it? You can't expect people to do proper work to support those sorts of activities…."
Or rather he said nothing like that. Or meant to say it and said:
"And how would you use your experience in the role you are applying for?"
I always preferred beetles to ants. Individuals rather than neurons in a hive mind.
The next time I watched her dress her tights laddered as she pulled them up. She sat on the bed and cried, holding a leg of scrunched up hose in her hand, the other leg still on, ragged where it had torn.
"My last pair," she said, "my God, I'm crying. Crying over a pair of tights. But we've got no money."
"Maybe that job…" I began.
"That was days ago," she snarled, "don't you remember? They turned you down."
She sat for a while trying to do some trick with nail varnish to repair the tights, something she had learned from her mother.
I diminished into a corner, a small thing, small enough to hide behind a grain of dust, in awe at her vast humanity.
I watched her dress for the last time, throwing the ruined tights to the floor where they lay like an abandoned cocoon.
"I'll freeze," she said, "but at least I won't look like a tramp."
There is a type of rove beetle that secretes a sweet liquor. Ants live off it. They find the taste so irresistible that they carry the beetle with them wherever they go, feeding off the liquor. The beetle is blind, defenceless and yet it survives, protected by the ants, loved by them.
Alone, I got the matchbox from the bedside cabinet. It was now as big as a double coffin so there was room for me to lie down next to the ground beetle. I will dream here; I will recall an existence among fabulous creatures with their cars and theatre trips; I will remember giving lectures and evenings spent in restaurants and laughing in bars. I will go into the future cherishing hope, keeping close the mornings of sunlight watching Emily dress.